SUNNYVALE — When Sage Hager gets in the zone, look out.
A right-handed pitcher who just finished her freshman varsity season at San Mateo High School, Hager was front and center as the West Bay Warriors 14-and-under travel softball team won the Northern California ASA 14U “A” Championship title Sunday at the Twin Creeks Sports Complex.
Hager earned her second complete-game shutout of the tournament in a 4-0 win over the Cal Nuggets 14U-Gold team in the championship game. The right-hander scattered three hits while striking out three, and set down the last 11 batters she faced.
“I love to pitch,” Hager said. “I’ve been pitching ever since I was 6. That’s all I do.”
Hager and right-hander Katelyn Heuser shouldered all the pitching duties for the Warriors through their five tournament wins. Heuser opened the tourney with a complete-game victory in an 8-3 win over the Lady Wolfpack. Hager then turned in back-to-back complete games, including a three-inning win in a 16-1 mercy-rule decision, preceded by a one-hit shutout to outduel Nor Cal Experience pitcher Paige Maier in a 1-0 victory.
“[Hager] is a true competitor,” Warriors head coach Ray McDonald said. “Massive focus and an incredible leader.”
In Sunday’s dramatic semifinal win 9-8 over the Salinas Storm-Plascencia, Hager encountered her lone stumble, surrendering seven runs through 2 2/3 innings. But she got bailed out with help from Heuser — who allowed one run on five hits over 3 1/3 innings — and from leadoff hitter Haley Klemmer.
The Warriors entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 8-6, but rallied for three runs to walk off with the victory. Kailey O’Connor led off the inning with a solo home run. Then, after a walk to Alex Bunton and a one-out single by Brooke Deppiesse, the Warriors tied it on an RBI groundout by Gabriella Lee. Klemmer followed with the heroics, belting an RBI single to center field to score Deppiesse with the winning run.
“Momentum,” McDonald said of riding a walk-off win into the championship game. “It just takes the electricity and carries it over.”
The Cal Nuggets had been riding a comeback wave as well. Of their four victories through the tournament, three of them were by way of the comeback, and each via seventh-inning walk-offs. In their 7-6 semifinal win, Jasmine Hsiao produced the game winner with an RBI infield single to plate Claire Turner with the game-winner.
In the championship game, though, the Warriors jumped ahead early, scoring all four of their runs in the second inning. After singles by O’Connor and Sophia Siu, Deppiesse — who hit .500 (7 for 14) with eight RBIs in the tournament — got her team on the board with a two-run single to left.
“It was a low pitch and I was just thinking I needed to get on,” Deppiesse said. “I wasn’t thinking about getting the runs in. It felt good.”
After an infield single by Lee to put runners at the corners, the Warriors added on. Lee faked a steal to prompt a throw to second base, and Deppiesse stole home on the play to up the lead to 3-0. Olivia Dinardo then singled home Lee to cap the scoring.
By virtue of reaching the championship game, both the Warriors and the Nuggets earn bids to the ASA Fast Pitch Girls’ “A” 14U Western National Championships, starting July 30 in Medford, Oregon. The Warriors are also gunning for a bid to the Premier Girls Fastpitch national championships — considered the more advanced tournament — and will attend a PGF qualifier this coming weekend in Las Vegas.
Warriors on the map
Based in San Mateo, the West Bay Warriors are a relatively new travel softball organization. Founded by McDonald in 2014, the West Bay Warriors Hitting Facility now houses four teams spanning three different age groups, including a 16U team with the core of its roster the organization’s six founding players — Izzy Borges, Holly Fletcher, Isabella Jaimes, Maicie Levitt, Kelly McGuigan and Brianna Santos.
McDonald began coaching the core players in 2014 in something of an informal setting, running through standard softball drills at Chanteloup Park every afternoon. McDonald said the girls kept showing up every day, and so did he, and soon the group grew to enough players to start a team. And so he did.
Now, the four-team organization is housed in the nose-to-the-grindstone environment of the open-door West Bay Warriors Hitting Facility, where players can come and go as they please, though each position player is encouraged to take 200 batting swings per day.
“It’s a clubhouse for the Warriors and we trust them to handle their business,” McDonald said.
Grant commits to UCLA
Warriors 14U shortstop Megan Grant has yet to even start high school. She recently graduated middle school and, as did her older brothers Devin and Cameron, is in line to attend Aragon High School in the fall. She also has a Division I college offer in hand, as she has verbally committed to play softball at UCLA. She committed to the program run by Olympics legend Lisa Fernandez Jan. 26, the day after Grant’s 14th birthday.
Grant attended two workouts at UCLA last year, then went on an unofficial visit to the campus in January. And while she’s too young to have witnessed Fernandez become the Babe Ruth of the softball world by winning three Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and ’04, Grant said she was impressed with the Fernandez’s enthusiasm for the game.
“Just good energy,” Grant said. “I think it’s cool. I’m still new to it so I’m still learning about softball.”
Grant has only been playing softball for a little over a year. She grew up playing baseball, including travel baseball. In fact, the weekend tourney wasn’t the first time she’d played at the Twin Creeks Sports Complex. She had previously played there as part of a Little League baseball tournament.
As Grant approached high school, however, she converted to softball. She’s proven a natural shortstop though, so much so that Deppiesse, also a natural shortstop, made the switch to third base this summer. McDonald called Deppiesse’s defense at the hot corner “rock solid.” And Deppiesse had similar praise for Grant.
“She’s great,” Deppiesse said. “I know when the ball gets by me, she’s going to get it. She’s great. She’s just an outstanding player.”